As the U.S. military looks to replace the M-4 carbine, Russia is set to produce its own next-generation rifles in 2012 that could turn up in hotspots around the world, and possibly oppose U.S. troops.

First, let’s take a look at what’s in the near-future of the AK (Avtomat Kalashnikova) family of rifles.

The Russian AK-47 is probably the most widely recognized and produced rifle in the world. After over six decades of use by the Soviets, their client, and even Islamic extremist groups state that it has become an emblematic symbol for many of America’s enemies. It appears on the Hezbollah flag, and in countless films as the ‘bad guy’ weapon of choice.

Well, the storied and iconic AK is about to get a major upgrade.

1) The AK-12 (AK-200)

Two New Russian Guns That Our Troops Could Face On the Battlefield

Introducing the AK-12. The primary changes to the traditional AK-47 are a 60 round magazine, folding stock, rail system, and a bipod/handguard. Its control mechanism have been ergonomically honed such that single-hand operation is possible. This means an injured soldier can stay in the fight with only one good hand.

The rail system will make the gun compatible with modern firearms accessories, a major upgrade over the older AK models that were not easy to fit with lights, sights, and other additions.

AK-12 possible calibers will include 5.45mm, 5.56mm NATO, 7.62x39mm and a new caliber that has not yet been announced. Some gun enthusiasts have offered that the new caliber may be the 6.5mm Grendel, but that is unconfirmed. The Izhmash munitions plants — the grand-daddy of Kalashnikov production — is set to begin producing the AK-12 in 2012 (hence the name change from AK-200).

Two New Russian Guns That Our Troops Could Face On the Battlefield

The gas operation system may receive some last minute tweaks, and the AK-12 will be available in a range of sizes, including a carbine model for Spetznaz troops.

Even newer in the public eye, though, and scheduled for 2012 production, is this bullpup rifle that packs a punch roughly equivalent to a U.S. .50 caliber.

2) TsKIB ASH-12 

Two New Russian Guns That Our Troops Could Face On the Battlefield

The Russians have created a brand-spanking new bullpup rifle that packs a punch, and it’s called the Ash-12. Russia’s TsKIB SOO, a subsidiary of the KBP (Instrument Design Bureau) is trying to revolutionize large-caliber, highly portable infantry weapons with this new model. It’s not a gussied up member of the British SA-80 family, but  you could say it’s an L85A1 on steroids.

The Ash-12 is chambered in a new family of 12.7x55mm cartridges specifically designed for this weapon, and it’s a monster of a cartridge. As the Firearms Blog puts it:

“It is similar in size, and probably power, to the .50 Beowulf. To help mitigate recoil, the ASh-12 is fitted with a large two-baffle muzzle brake. The 12.7x55mm assault rifle cartridge is based on the 12.7x55mm subsonic rifle cartridge (similar to the .500 Whisper)… TsKIB SOO have developed a FMJ, soft-point, lead and armour piercing loads for the 12.7x55mm assault rifle cartridge.”

Between the AK-12 and the Ash-12, it looks like Russia is set to put some pretty formidable new hardware into the hands of its ground troops. And given the history of the AK, it’s probably only a matter of time until these high-tech shooters turn up in the hands of our enemies abroad.

(h/t the firearms blog)